The disappointment teetered on the edge of humiliation three weeks ago for Bernd Wiesberger. An opening round 79 saw him crash out of his home tournament in Austria, making his victory at last week’s French Open all the more impressive. Equally eyebrow-raising was Dawn Sherwood’s triumph in our Fantasy Game. As well as the Austrian, every member of her ‘Hawthorn’ team – Van Zyl, Cabrera-Bello, Kaymer, Dubuisson and Jaidee – finished in the top 12 in Paris to give her 165 points and victory by nine points.
If Le Golf National offered the Open amuse bouche, then this week’s Scottish Open at Gullane provides a more wholesome appetiser, with the last four winners of the Claret Jug taking in this event. This gorgeous East Lothian Links overlooking the Firth of Forth is steeped in history. Gullane Golf Club may have been formed in 1882 but golf was being played on this iconic stretch more than 200 years earlier when the weavers of Dirleton and Aberlady did battle. It seems strange, then, that this should be Gullane’s Scottish Open debut, becoming the ninth venue in the tournament’s history.
It is a stage worthy of the finest players and the cream of the current crop have not disappointed. A dozen of those who starred at last year’s Ryder Cup down the road at Gleneagles were confirmed, though that is down to 11 following news of Rory McIlroy’s ankle injury. The Northern Irishman will be missed but Americans Mickelson, Fowler, Kuchar and Walker and Europeans Rose, Bjorn, Donaldson, Dubuisson, McDowell, Poulter and Gallacher offer plenty of hype.
The latter is an honorary member at Gullane having spent plenty of time here during his formative years and he lifted the lid on the links ahead of its European Tour bow: ‘I must have played Gullane hundreds of times, mainly with guys I played amateur golf with so I know the course well,’ said the Scot. ‘It doesn’t change much from winter apart from the rough and definition. The greens are unbelievable during winter, they are such good surfaces so no excuses here.’
‘It’s as straightforward a course as you’ll play in terms of layout but a lot can change with the different wind. Hopefully that knowledge gives me an extra edge. It’s all in front of you, nothing that’s going to scare you. It’s just spectacular. When you see the colours, the definition, the 360-degree views you get from the top of the course. It’s a great traditional links and a fitting golf course for the stature of the tournament.’
There are three courses here – named simply Course No. 1, Course No. 2 and Course No. 3 – with the new Championship Course comprising 16 holes from the first and two from the second. Narrow fairways, penal rough, fast-running greens and pot bunkers are the features of a layout that will play less than 7,300 yards and be a test of ball-striking, accuracy and short game prowess. Here’s my line-up this week…
Justin Rose, £4.5m
Reappearance after a very solid US Open (72, 70, 72, 71), the Englishman is the defending champion having triumphed at Royal Aberdeen 12 months ago. A brilliant ball striker who lies fourth in the Tour’s green in regulation rankings, his game sets up perfectly for the links.
Matt Kuchar, £3.5m
‘Trending nicely’ is the Tour term. Kuchar has finished 39th, 26th and 12th in his last three events, the latter being the US Open at Chambers Bay. His links record is good, making his last three Open Championship cuts and excelling at the RBC Heritage by the sea at Harbour Town, South Carolina. Any test of accuracy and short game should be right up the street of a man who sits in the top 10 in scrambling and putts per round on the PGA Tour.
Stephen Gallacher, £1.9m
Back-to-back missed cuts at the US and French Opens mean the Scot should relish home comforts even more this week. Nobody in the field knows Gullane better and hitting greens in regulation has remained his strength during an otherwise frustrating and unspectacular 2015.
Marc Warren, £1.6m
Another who will have plenty of support this week. The Scot came back down to earth with a bump in Paris last time out, missing the cut having surprised a few by finishing 27th at the US Open. He seems to go well in front of a home crowd, finishing third in this event in two of the last three years. Second on Tour in putts per GIR and putts per round.
Tommy Fleetwood, £1.6m
Englishman is going quietly about his business, making five straight cuts that included the Irish and US Opens. Took last week off after finishing 11th in Germany and he ranks fifth in greens in regulation on the Tour.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, £1.0m
Was selected for the BMW International Open a couple of weeks ago and missed the cut. He repeated the trick in France last week, missing the weekend by a single stroke after bogeying his 36th hole. There are plenty of reasons for optimism though. The 20-year-old finished eighth on the Irish links in May, ranks 11th in driving accuracy, fifth in greens in regulation and qualified for the 2013 Open here.